BY EMEKA EJERE
Last week, yet another batch of money looted late Head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, was returned to Nigeria. Perhaps there are more of the funds looted by Abacha and his cronies still out there going by the frequency of recoveries by the federal authorities.
The United States of America signed an agreement with the federal government to repatriate $23 million Abacha loot, bringing recoveries from the U.S to more than $334.7 million.
According to an infographic by the BBC with data gathered from the federal government, World Bank, and Transparency International, the total amount of looted funds recovered from late military dictator in the past 24 years has been put at $3.65 billion.
Although it may be difficult to put a figure on the amount stolen and hidden in many offshore accounts by the former ruler , Transparency International once said Abacha may have stolen up to $5bn from 1985 when he became Chief of Army Staff through 1990 when became Defence minister to 1993 when he assumed office and 1998 when he died.
Military sources said his tenure as army chief and defence minister was the worst in terms of funding as little capital projects were executed and arms procured. The insinuation then was that Military president Babangida compensated him with the military. It was also the period Nigeria was fully engaged in ECOMOG peace operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On November 17, 1993, Abacha took the reins of power after sacking the Shonekan interim administration where he served as Defence Minister. He reigned supreme and maximally from that day to June 7, 1998. But the only legacy known to have been bequeathed by the once most powerful man in the country is what has come to be known as “Abacha Loot.”
Simply put, Abacha loots are proceeds of corruption and illicit funds stashed away in foreign bank accounts. It is bewildering, however, that after 24 years of Abacha’s death, government after government have continued to talk about Abacha loot.
There have been one military leader and four civilian Presidents since the death of Abacha: General Abdulsalami Abubukar (June 8, 1999 to May 29, 1999), President Olusegun Obasanjo (May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007), President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (May 29, 2007 to May 6, 2010), President Goodluck Jonathan (May 6, 2010 to May 29, 2015) and President Muhammad Buhari who assumed office on May 29, 2015.
The BBC infographic showed that the recovered monies were principally stashed away in four major countries: Switzerland, Jersey Island in United Kingdom, United States and Liechtenstein.
While in 1998, a total of $750 million was recovered from the late Head of State’s family, in year 2000, $64 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2002, $1.2 billion was recovered from the Abacha family while in 2003, $160 million and $88 million were recovered from Jersey and Switzerland respectively, and in 2005 another $461.3 million was returned from Switzerland.
In 2006, Nigeria was also fortunate to have received another $44.1 million from Switzerland while in 2014, $227 million was recovered from Liechtenstein.
In 2018, another $322 million was returned from Switzerland while in 2020, a total of $311.7 million was repatriated from the USA before the recent agreement signed for another $23 million to be sent from the USA.
During the Abdulsalami era in 1999, $750 million was recovered. Under the Obasanjo Administration, $1.2 billion was recovered in 2002; $149 million from UK in 2003; $500 million recovered in 2004 from Switzerland and another $458 recovered in 2005 from Switzerland.
During the Jonathan Administration, $1 billion was recovered in 2012 and $380 million in 2015, both tranches from Switzerland. The administration also recovered $227 million from Liechtenstein in 2014 and $48 million from the United States the same year.
Buhari’s government recovered $322 million from Switzerland in 2017 and $308 million from United Kingdom in February 2020 and $23 million which will soon be repatriated from the USA.
Switzerland tops the list of recoveries, with a total of about $2.6 billion of the funds so far repatriated to Nigeria coming from there while the other recoveries came from UK and USA.
Sadly, nothing has be seen as the benefits of these monies returned to Nigeria. Before the President Buhari administration, all the loots recovered were ploughed into the budget and re-looted. It was this development this that forced the U.S. government to enter into agreement with Nigeria to tie such returned loot to specific projects, such the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos- Ibadan expressway and Abuja-Kano road.
Significantly, in 2014, the Abacha family entered into an agreement, forfeiting several billions of dollars to the federal government, following plea bargaining to drop charges against the late military ruler’s son.
While the U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard signed the recent agreement on behalf of the United States, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami signed for Nigeria.
Leonard, in her speech, said the U.S Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, seized the stolen funds because Abacha and his associates violated U.S laws, when they laundered the funds through the U.S and into accounts to the UK.
She said, “This agreement is also kind of collaboration that our government must continue in order to right the wrongs committed under the previous regimes, combined with a $311.7m seized and repatriated with the assistance of the Bailiwick of Jersey and the government of Nigeria in 2020.
“This repatriation brings to a total amount of funds repatriated in this case by the U.S to more than $334.7 million.
“As a result of today’s agreement, $23 million will be transferred to the Nigerian government, which through the NSIA (Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority), will be used to continue the construction of three key infrastructural projects located in strategic economic zones of the country: The 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano Road.
In his remarks, Malami, said since 2016, his ministry, the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA), and United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) had been working closely with the legal representatives of the federal government to finalize litigations related to the Abacha linked assets.
He noted that based on agreement between parties, the UK High Court granted the NCA a registration and recovery order on July 21, 2021, which was sealed by the court on August 4, 2021.
He said, “The forfeited Mecosta/Sani assets were subsequently transferred to the NCA, which on February 7, 2022, held that the sum of $23,439,724, pending the execution of the asset return agreement between the FRN and the USA”.
He added that in line with the agreement, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the use of the funds for the on-going presidential development infrastructural funds (PIDF) projects, which include the Abuja-Kano Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, which are being supervised by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
“The President’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organisation to complete these three projects within the agreed timeline”, he said urging the U.S government not to relent in supporting Nigeria’s commitment to speedy and transparent management of returned assets.
Late last year, the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, gave the details of how the federal government spent a total of $622 million looted funds recovered from foreign countries in 2017 and 2020.
Prof. Gambari was delivering a paper on the occasion of a book presentation, themed: “Continuity and Change in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Under President Muhammadu Buhari,” at the 2021 Annual Public Lecture Series of the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA), held in Abuja.
“The first tranche ($322) is being disbursed as part of the Buhari’s Administration’s Social Investment Programme interventions, while the second tranche ($311) is being invested in the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSA),” Gambari stated.
Alleged lack of transparency in the management of recoveries from the controversial Abacha loot in 2020 prompted Transparency International to write: “In Nigeria, plans are in motion to distribute $322 million recovered in Switzerland from the late General Sani Abacha, the country’s former military ruler. Abacha is suspected of looting between US$3 and $5 billion in public money.
“Where institutions of accountability are not working well, such cases pose a complex problem: how to make sure that the money is not embezzled again, and actually benefits the real victims of corruption – the ordinary people whose state finances were plundered.
“In 2006, $723 million illicitly acquired by Abacha’s family was returned to Nigeria from Switzerland. A significant amount of these funds remains unaccounted for.
“That past experience led Switzerland to controversially attach conditions to the repatriation of this batch of Abacha loot, including third party oversight – meaning that the World Bank will now monitor the distribution of the funds.
“Under the deal, around 300,000 poor families in just over half the 36 states in Nigeria will each receive approximately $14 per month through the Nigeria National Social Safety Net Program. However, this cash-transfer model has proved controversial, in part because of documented problems with how the safety net programme operates.”
In solidarity with ASUU
Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives Dachung Musa Bagos has suggested that part of the recently returned $23m Abacha loot should be used to settle the striking members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Members of the union have been on strike since February 14 over improved welfare, revitalisation of public universities among others. But one bone of contention for the academics is the non-payment of university revitalisation funds, amounting to about N1.1 trillion.
While the federal government says it does not have enough funds to settle the lecturers, Bagos who represents Jos South/Jos East is wondering why the recently returned Abacha loot should not be used to settle ASUU.
“We have pressing needs. Like now, ASUU has been on strike and the government is trying to settle those issues,” he said during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Wednesday.
“As a representative of the people, if I have to argue where those funds should be channeled to on the floor, I will say, ‘Why can’t you channel this fund to ASUU so that most of the youths that are at home would go back to school?’ But some of the areas we feel that the executive is channeling those funds are not the immediate needs of Nigerians.”
Similarly, a renowned traditional ruler in Imo State, His Imperial Majesty, Eze Thomas Obiefule has advised the federal government to channel the $23m returned looted Abacha funds to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to resolve the unending strike in the country.
Obiefule, who is the National President, Association of Royal Traditional Rulers of Nigeria told newsmen on Thursday that the action would go a long way in settling and resolving the ongoing ASUU industrial action.
“All these money, I don’t know where they are, both the $100m, $200m, $300m and the $400m already received by our country. I don’t know where they are and nobody has explained to us the whereabout of the money.”